In this article we will present some of the most famous stoics in history. We have narrowed our list to the six Stoic philosophers who contributed the most to the Stoic School, starting with its founder.
However, there are many others of great importance, including Zeno of Tarsus, Panaetius of Rhodes, Posidonius and Musonius Rufus from the middle stoic period. There are also some notable followers like Cato the Younger and Fannia one of the first women stoics.
Zeno of Citium
We will start Zeno of Citium, who founded the Hellenic Stoic school around 300 BC. Most of what we know about Zeno’s life can be found in Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laërtius.
In the mentioned work we can read that Zeno’s interest in philosophy began when “he consulted the oracle to know what he should do to attain the best life, and that the god’s response was that he should take on the complexion of the dead.” This knowledge brought him closer to the older authors.
After surviving a shipwreck, he went to Athens where he found the Xenophon’s Memorabilia. Zeno was thrilled when he read about Socrates. He asked the bookseller where he could find a man who is the most similar to Socrates, and the bookseller pointed out Crates of Thebes who happened to be passing nearby. From that moment on, Zeno became his student.
Cleanthes was the successor or Zeno and the second hand of stoic school. It is interesting to note that Cleanthes was a boxer too. Cleanthes successfully preserved and developed Zeno’s doctrines.
He originated new ideas in Stoic physics, and developed Stoicism in accordance with the principles of materialism and pantheism.
A Fun fact is that he got a nickname from other students “the Ass” because of his patience and endurance, however, he liked this nickname because it represented his character when he had to endure Zeno’s harsh training.
Cleanthes devoted his work mostly to physics, where he contributed the most. With his work, we completed the stoic philosophical system. He was the head of the school for 32 years after Zeno’s death.
When it comes to physics, Cleanthes claimed that even a soul is material. Cleanthes found proof for this claim in the fact that even a mental capacity (beside those of a body) are transmitted from the parents to a child. The second proof is that of a sympathy of the soul and body.
Namely, the soul will suffer if the body is injured, and if the soul is injured by anxiety, anger or depression, it will affect the body forcing it to change.
Chrysippus was the third head of the stoic school and a student of Cleanthes. His philosophical work expanded the teachings of Zeno. Chrysippus worked on all stoic philosophical disciplines (logics, physics and ethics).
He created an original system of propositional logic in order to better understand the workings of the universe and the role of humanity within it.
He believed that the universe is materialistic and deterministic. However, he defended the view of personal freedom of choice and action that the mind has by its nature.
Chrysippus’ importance lies in preservation of the Stoic school. He developed logics further and completed the stoic system as we know it. It is quite possible that without Chrysippus’s hard work, the stoic school wouldn’t have existed for long.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Seneca was the ninth leader of the stoic school and was born in Corduba in Hispania in 4 BC. He was a gifted man who excelled as a politician, dramatist and philosopher. He was one of the most prominent figures of the Roman Imperial period of Stoic school, and a famous statesman at the time.
He was a teacher and minister of Nero. In 65 AD, he was accused of conspiracy and Nero sentenced him to commit suicide. He did it by cutting his veins.
Seneca’s main emphasis was on practical philosophy, therefore ethics. He was more interested in the actual exercise of virtue and not just in the theory.
He had abandoned the idea of the sublime importance of theoretical knowledge. Seneca’s views on philosophy were mostly practical. Philosophy should show us how to conduct ourselves in real life situations.
Philosophy, in his opinion, is necessary, but it should be applied with a practical purpose in mind. Learning how to master your passions is the first goal of practical philosophy.
Epictetus was the eleventh leader of the stoic school. He was born around 50 AD. He was a slave of a member of Nero’s bodyguard, and when he was released he continued to live in Rome until the emperor Domitian expelled all philosophers (89 or 93 AD). He then founded a school in Nicopolis, which he headed until his death.
Epictetus emphasized that all men are capable of virtue and that God has given all men enough to be happy, to become men of steadfast character, and capable of self-mastery. All people can build a moral life based on initial moral insights.
However, although people have sufficient grounds for building a moral life, philosophical training is necessary for all, so that they can apply their original notions of good and evil to special circumstances.
These original terms are common to all people, but conflicts and difficulties can arise when using these terms in individual cases.
We can notice the strong influence of Socrates in Epictetus work. It is interesting that he mentioned Socrates 76 times in his Discourses. He was a true admirer of Socratic character and wisdom.
Marcus Aurelius was the last leader of Stoic School which is very symbolic if we have in mind that he was also the Emperor of Rome. He was the last of the rulers known as the Five Good Emperors. Aurelius was born on 26 April 121 and died on 17 March 180.
Today, Marcus Aurelius is known to a wide audience for his Meditations, which he wrote in Greek. He nurtured great admiration towards Epictetus and his teachings.
Our Emperor teaches compassion for human weakness, cosmopolitan values, gratitude, self-control, affects, emotions, communal values and virtues.
Marcus Aurelius emphasized equality among people and their interdependence. He advocated forgiveness instead of revenge. According to the Emperor, human minds share the same nature. All minds are the reflection of the universal mind which is God.
Like Seneca and Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius emphasized the practical side of philosophy, although in his Meditations he often attached cosmological ideas about God and the Universal Mind, which had a more metaphysical dimension.